Taylor lived glorious spectacle on-screen and off

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LOS ANGELES (AP) - Elizabeth Taylor went from dazzling beauty in her glory years to self-described ruin in old age.

She spent almost her entire life in the public eye, from tiny dancer performing at age 3 before the future queen of England, to child screen star to scandalous home-wrecker to three-time Academy Award winner for both acting and humanitarian work.

A diva, she made a spectacle of her private life _ eight marriages, ravenous appetites for drugs, booze and food, ill health that sparked headlines constantly proclaiming her at death’s door. All of it often overshadowed the fireworks she created on screen.

Yet for all her infamy and indulgences, Taylor died Wednesday a beloved idol, a woman who somehow held onto her status as one of old Hollywood’s last larger-than-life legends, adored even as she waned to a tabloid figure.

Taylor, 79, died of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she had been hospitalized for about six weeks.

“We know, quite simply, that the world is a better place for Mom having lived in it. Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us, and her love will live forever in our hearts,” her son, Michael Wilding, said in a prepared statement.

A star from her teen years in such films as “National Velvet,” “Little Women” and “Father of the Bride,” Taylor won best-actress Oscars as a high-end hooker in 1960s “BUtterfield 8” and an alcoholic shrew in a savage marriage in 1966’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

In the latter, she starred with husband Richard Burton, their on-screen emotional tempest considered a glimpse of their stormy real lives (they divorced in 1974, remarried in 1975 and divorced again a year later).

For all the ferocity of her screen roles and the turmoil of her life, Taylor was remembered for her gentler, life-affirming side.

“The shock of Elizabeth was not only her beauty,” said “Virginia Woolf” director Mike Nichols. “It was her generosity, her giant laugh, her vitality, whether tackling a complex scene on film or where we would all have dinner until dawn.”

“She is singular and indelible on film and in our hearts,” he said.

Though Taylor continued acting in film, television and theater in the 1980s and 1990s, she called it quits on the big screen with 1994’s “The Flintstones,” playing caveman Fred’s nagging mother-in-law.

Taylor bid farewell to the small screen with 2001’s “These Old Broads,” a geriatric diva romp co-starring Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins and one-time romantic rival Debbie Reynolds, whose husband, Eddie Fisher, left her for Taylor in the late 1950s.

She was remembered for her friendship, standing by Michael Jackson, Rock Hudson and other troubled friends.

“I don’t know what was more impressive, her magnitude as a star or her magnitude as a friend,” MacLaine said. “Her talent for friendship was unmatched. I will miss her for the rest of my life and beyond.”

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